CANTON, S.D. (KELO) — The U.S. is planning a national investigation into hundreds of Indian boarding schools that operated across the nation. South Dakota once had 25 of them. The motto was “kill the Indian to save the man.”
But there was a deeper threat behind the boarding schools.
Native American children and adults who didn’t follow the rules could face a much worse fate: the Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum. Hiawatha operated for more than three decades in Canton, South Dakota — the only facility of its kind in the U.S.
This is a shocking and mostly secret story. That’s because records of what took place at the Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum were sealed for 70 years. The true picture of what took place in Canton has only seeped into public awareness in the last couple of decades. Even though it closed in 1933, new information continues to rise to the surface.
While Hiawatha was called an insane asylum, the Native Americans sent here were not typically suffering from mental illness.
“Many had epilepsy; and while they were there, tuberculosis and syphilis and other diseases were allowed to run rampant. They were untreated,” Anne Dilenschneider, Keeper of the Hiawatha story, said.
Historians say Hiawatha was a death sentence. In all 400 Native American inmates from 53 different tribes around the nation were imprisoned here. Artist Jerry Fogg, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe is keeping the story of Hiawatha alive through his art.
“The past is the past. You can’t change it. You can’t do anything with it. The only thing I would like to see is people being aware more of what has happened,” Artist Jerry Fogg said.
The remaining mystery today is just how many bodies are buried on the grounds of Hiawatha, which is now Canton’s public golf course. I’ll take you to the cemetery tonight at ten, between the 4th and 5th fairways, where new technology shows that records from the facility are not complete, and more Native American bodies may actually be here than what was reported.
You won’t want to miss our deep dive into the “History of Hiawatha: The Threat Behind the Boarding Schools,” Wednesday night at 10 p.m.